Freedom University Series: Integrating Dreams
by Arizbeth Sanchez student at Freedom University and Nowmee Shehab, student at Emory University.
Sanchez: I came to this country when I was 6 years old from Mexico with only my younger sister and mom in hand. We were pretending that we were visiting family in the United States and so taking possessions would seem suspicious. At the time I was too young to understand what was going on and the immense impact this decision was going to have on my future.
Shehab: I came to this country when I was 16, with not much more than two bags of clothes and dreams of a better future. I immigrated from Bangladesh where ongoing political instability and frequent school closures made being a student very arduous so I landed in Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport with a sense of purpose: to survive and get a good education.
Sanchez: I grew up Norcross, Georgia. My entire education is American from first grade until my senior year of high school. People who live outside of the United States paint this colorful, happy utopia in their mind about this country, but the US has had a rocky journey since it’s beginning concerning the equal protection and treatment of its inhabitants.
Shehab: I went to Brookwood High School in Snellville and soon realized that my adopted country had problems just like my birth country. I witnessed acts of interpersonal racism everyday in school and where I worked. I became aware of and interacted with structural inequalities in this country including the criminalization of immigrants of colors, mass incarceration and a public education system that had been increasingly turning away from public interest.
Sanchez: I am currently living one of these injustices. Living undocumented isn’t always terrible. It just depends on where you live. Unfortunately, I live in the deep south. The Georgia Board of Regents banned students like me from enrolling to the top five public institutions in the state even though I am academically qualified. I am also denied in-state tuition in other institutions though I have lived most of my life in Georgia.
Shehab: These experiences pushed me get involved in community organizing and activism. I didn’t want to passively live in this unjust system, I wanted to join hands with my peers and fight for a better future.
Sanchez: I didn’t start fighting for my right to education until I joined Freedom University. Freedom University is a modern day freedom school that provides rigorous college-level classes, scholarship assistance, and leadership development for undocumented students in Georgia. I cannot express in words how grateful I am to have made the decision to attend Freedom U. My life completely changed. I went from being a shy, timid girl afraid to speak up to the brave, confident, unapologetic fighter that I am now. On Friday, January 9th, the 54th anniversary of desegregation at the University of Georgia, I was arrested for refusing to leave an integrated class of undocumented students and documented allies. This action was important to me because it was the first time I felt brave enough to publicly stand up for my human right to an education. I refused to leave the classroom of the college I deserve to attend.
Shehab: Recently I joined a group called Freedom at Emory to advocate making higher education more accessible for undocumented students. This coalition of students and faculty at Emory University stand with our undocumented peers against the Georgia Board of Regents Ban. We believe that every qualified student should be able to get an affordable education.
Sanchez: I am Arizbeth Sanchez, a student at Freedom University who wants to major in computer science and is incredibly privileged to have been raised in this country and highly committed to supporting my undocumented peers in changing Georgia’s oppressive policies.
Shehab: I am Nowmee, junior at Emory University, majoring in Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies, incredibly privileged to be a documented immigrant in this country and highly committed to use this privilege to support my undocumented peers.